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Lucky sevens led to love for airmen and their singers

By Eddie McIlwaine

The Second World War was at its height when seven girl singers in St Catherine's Parish Church Choir fell in love with seven young flyers from RAF Aldergrove.

The handsome men in uniform were in the congregation most Sundays as St Catherine's is actually inside the base – the only civilian place of worship inside a military establishment in the UK.

Or else the couples met up at dances in the camp or at socials out in the district of Killead.

And over the next few years as relationships blossomed the pretty choristers married their beaux with Rector Arthur Guthrie, a war hero in his own right with a MC to his credit when he was a chaplain in the field, performing the ceremonies in that same little church, with choir mistress Eileen Wilson at the organ.

"Seven was definitely a lucky number for some back in those times of black-outs and worry nearly 70 years ago," says Lena Martin, who at 87 is still in the choir. RAF Aldergrove was awash with good-looking young men in uniform and the girls couldn't help noticing them as they sang the hymns."

But Lena, maiden name Christie, was the exception. She married farmer Alfie Martin, a legendary pig breeder at Balmoral Show and they had a happy union over more than 60 years until his death after a long illness.

The other choristers who married RAF men were Mary Gibb who fell for Scot Steve Hutcheon; her sister Lily who wed Jim Brown; Jessie Beattie who found happiness with Bill Healey; Gretta Molyneaux who had eyes only for Aussie pilot Charlie Cross; May Molyneaux who walked up the aisle with Bob Faulkner; May Lyle, whose lifelong love was Bill Beardshall, and Edna Pankhurst who found true love with Ronald Trinder.

All the weddings naturally enough were in St Catherine's – where the choristers had also been baptised. So a reunion after all these years just had to be arranged and widow Betty Costello, who is related to sisters Mary and Lily, set it up in Dungonnell Orange Hall where Lily and husband Jim recall dancing many a night away in the 40s. The hall itself is only three miles away from the picturesque place of worship and the military base where it all began, now known as Flying Station Aldergrove.

Sadly the years have taken their toll. Mary, who is 91 and settled in Scarborough with Steve, once a rear gunner in a Lancaster, is a widow. But her sister Lily and her husband and former sergeant Jim are still going strong in their late 80s and are here on a visit from Peterborough where they settled.

Jessie, who rejoined the choir after she and Bill Healey, who was an observer, settled in South Antrim have passed on, as have May and Bob Faulkner who also spent their lives here. Gretta and Charlie Cross who moved away to Tasmania are dead too. So are May and Bill Beardshall.

But the good news is that Edna is still around even though her husband Ronald Trinder died a while back. She lives in Kent, but couldn't make the party.

Sisters Mary and Lily and Lily's husband Jim were the guests at the surprise party and there too of course was Lena Martin who was a friend to all those seven choristers of yesteryear.

Belfast Telegraph

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